Commander Burnham is logical, intelligent, and a mutineer. She attempted to take over the Shenzhou in an effort to follow Sarek’s advice and give the Klingons a “Vulcan hello”, firing preemptively in order to gain their respect. While when battle was sure to come eventually anyway, this line of thinking made sense, as Georgiou said, “Starfleet doesn’t fire first.”
She assaulted her captain and mentor, but she did so thinking she was doing what had to be done to save her crew, her ship and her captain. It was a moment of conviction, and she’ll pay (some of) the price for it. Her sentence of life imprisonment fits her crimes of assault and mutiny, although it sure looks like she’ll get off the hook to some degree in the next episode, “Context is for Kings”.
Burnham outlogicked the Shenzhou’s computer when locked up in the brig, manipulating its ethical subroutines in order to escape that devastated deck in a way that would have made Captain James T. Kirk beam with pride. If you doubt this show as Star Trek, you need look no further than seeing a character outsmart a computer with ease. It was quintessential Trek and they pulled it off with style.
She’s a fascinating character, intelligent, complex and conflicted. It’s going to be a remarkable experience to follow her journey.
In a way, these two episodes could be seen as nothing more than an exciting big-budget action movie prelude to the real series which begins on Sunday with episode three. “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle At The Binary Stars” showed us how Burnham, the Klingons and the Federation all got to where we are now.